Ephesians 6:18 -Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
What does the Holy Spirit have to do with prayer? If we are honest, most of us have asked that question, or prayed in such a way that ignores the fact that the Holy Spirit even exists. In his sermon on Ephesians 2:18 (Part 2), Martin Lloyd-Jones seeks to impress on the believer the absolute necessity of prayer and of the role of the Holy Spirit in prayer.
According to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, praying in the Holy Spirit “is the very essence of prayer.” Also, in light of God’s stunning love that brings us to him, “prayer is the supreme activity of the human soul.”
Many people think that prayer is as simple as saying “their prayers,” but Dr. Lloyd-Jones critiques the phrase “saying our prayers” as being antithetical to prayer itself. Prayer is much deeper than this simplistic understanding because it is a Holy-Spirit lead endeavor. Dr. Lloyd-Jones goes as far as to say, “The Holy Spirit is as essential to Prayer as the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.”
According to Dr. Lloyd-Jones, Jesus died that we might have access to the Father, and the Holy Spirit makes real to the believer all that Jesus died for. Both must be held together if prayer is going to be true prayer.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was a Welsh evangelical minister who preached and taught in the Reformed tradition. His principal ministry was at Westminster Chapel, in central London, from 1939-1968, where he delivered multi-year expositions on books of the bible such as Romans, Ephesians and the Gospel of John. In addition to the MLJ Trust’s collection of 1,600 of these sermons in audio format, most of these great sermon series are available in book form (including a 14 volume collection of the Romans sermons), as are other series such as “Spiritual Depression”, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” and “Great Biblical Doctrines”. He is considered by many evangelical leaders today to be an authority on biblical truth and the sufficiency of Scripture.
ON PRAYING IN THE SPIRIT. “I WILL PRAY WITH THE SPIRIT, AND I WILL PRAY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING ALSO”—(I Cor 14:15).
Prayer by John Bunyan
John Bunyan (1628-88) was arguably one of the most influential writers in human history. Consider the fact that after the undoubted supremacy in circulation of the English Bible, Bunyan’s classic allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, has commonly ranked second. This has led it to be called “the second best book in all the world.”
PRAYER is an ORDINANCE of God, and that to be used both in public and private; yea, such an ordinance as brings those that have the spirit of supplication into great familiarity with God; and is also so prevalent in action, that it getteth of God, both for the person that prayeth, and for them that are prayed for, great things. It is the opener of the heart of God, and a means by which the soul, though empty, is filled. By prayer the Christian can open his heart to God, as to a friend, and obtain fresh testimony of God’s friendship to him.
I might spend many words in distinguishing between public and private prayer; as also between that in the heart, and that with the vocal voice. Something also might be spoken to distinguish between the gifts and graces of prayer; but eschewing this method, my business shall be at this time only to show you the very heart of prayer, without which, all your lifting up, both of hands, and eyes, and voices, will be to no purpose at all. “I will pray with the Spirit.”
The method that I shall go on in at this time shall be, FIRST. To show you what true prayer is. SECOND. To show you what it is to pray with the Spirit. THIRD. What it is to pray with the Spirit and understanding also. And so, FOURTHLY. To make some short use and application of what shall be spoken.
Effectual fervent prayer is wrought in the heart by the Holy Ghost, and those objects for which HE inclines the soul to pray are bestowed by God. Thus great things were obtained by Jacob, (Gen 32:24- 28); by Moses, (Exo 30:115 -14; Num 14:13-21); by Joshua, (10:12-14); by Hezekiah, (II Kings 19:14- 37); by the woman of Canaan, (Matt 15:21-28). The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, (James 5:16).—ED
WHAT PRAYER IS.
FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.
In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible; Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submission in faith to the will of God.
First. For the first of these, it is a SINCERE pouring out of the soul to God. Sincerity is such a grace as runs through all the graces of God in us, and through all the actings of a Christian, and hath the sway in them too, or else their actings are not any thing regarded of God, and so of and in prayer, of which particularly David speaks, when he mentions prayer. “I cried unto him,” the Lord “with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” my prayer (Psa 66:17,18). Part of the exercise of prayer is sincerity, without which God looks not upon it as prayer in a good sense (Psa 16:1-4). Then “ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jer 29:12- 13). The want of this made the Lord reject their prayers in Hosea 7:14, where he saith, “They have not cried unto me with their heart,” that is, in sincerity, “when they howled upon their beds.” But for a pretence, for a show in hypocrisy, to be seen of men, and applauded for the same, they prayed.
Sincerity was that which Christ commended in Nathaniel, when he was under the fig tree. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” Probably this good man was pouring out of his soul to God in prayer under the fig tree, and that in a sincere and unfeigned spirit before the Lord. The prayer that hath this in it as one of the principal ingredients, is the prayer that God looks at. Thus, “The prayer of the upright is his delight” (Prov 15:8).
And why must sincerity be one of the essentials of prayer which is accepted of God, but because sincerity carries the soul in all simplicity to open its heart to God, and to tell him the case plainly, without equivocation; to condemn itself plainly, without dissembling; to cry to God heartily, without complimenting. “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus; Thou has chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke” (Jer 31:18). Sincerity is the same in a corner alone, as it is before the face of the world. It knows not how to wear two vizards, one for an appearance before men, and another for a short snatch in a corner; but it must have God, and be with him in the duty of prayer. It is not lip-labour that it doth regard, for it is the heart that God looks at, and that which sincerity looks at, and that which prayer comes from, if it be that prayer which is accompanied with sincerity.
Second. It is a sincere and SENSIBLE
pouring out of the heart or soul. It is not, as many take it to be, even a few babbling, prating complimentary expressions, but a sensible feeling there is in the heart. Prayer hath in it a sensibleness of diverse things; sometimes sense of sin, sometimes of mercy received, sometimes of the readiness of God to give mercy, &
1. A sense of the want of mercy, by reason of the danger of sin. The soul, I say, feels, and from feeling sighs, groans, and breaks at the heart. For right prayer bubbleth out of the heart when it is overpressed with grief and bitterness, as blood is forced out of the flesh by reason of some heavy burden that lieth upon it (I Sam 1:10; Psa 69:3). David roars, cries, weeps, faints at heart, fails at the eyes, loseth his moisture, &c., (Psa 38:8-10). Hezekiah mourns like a dove (Isa 38:14). Ephraim bemoans himself (Jer 31:18). Peter weeps bitterly (Matt 26:75). Christ hath strong cryings and tears (Heb 5:7).
And all this from a sense of the justice of God, the guilt of sin, the pains of hell and destruction. “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.” Then cried I unto the Lord (Psa 116:3,4). And in another place, “My sore ran in the night” (Psa 77:2). Again, “I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long” (Psa 38:6). In all these instances, and in hundreds more that might be named, you may see that prayer carrieth in it a sensible feeling disposition, and that first from a sense of sin.
2. Sometimes there is a sweet sense of mercy received; encouraging, comforting, strengthening, enlivening, enlightening mercy, &c. Thus David pours out his soul, to bless, and praise, and admire the great God for his loving kindness to such poor vile wretches. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psa 103:1-5).
And thus is the prayer of saints sometimes turned into praise and thanksgiving, and yet are prayers still. This is a mystery; God’s people pray with their praises, as it is written, “Be careful for nothing, but in every thing by prayer, and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God” (Phil 4:6). A sensible thanksgiving, for mercies received, is a mighty prayer in the sight of God; it prevails with him unspeakably.
3. In prayer there is sometimes in the soul a sense of mercy to be received. This again sets the soul all on a flame. “Thou, O lord of hosts,” saith David, “hast revealed to thy servant, saying I will build thee an house; therefore hath thy servant found in his heart to pray – unto thee” (II Sam 7:27). This provoked Jacob, David, Daniel, with others—even a sense of mercies to be received—which caused them, not by fits and starts, nor yet in a foolish frothy way, to babble over a few words written in a paper; but mightily, fervently, and continually, to groan out their conditions before the Lord, How easy to forget all God’s benefits, and how impossible it is to remember them all!—as being sensible, sensible, I say, of their wants, their misery, and the willingness of God to show mercy (Gen 32:10,11; Dan 9:3,4).
A good sense of sin, and the wrath of God, with some encouragement from God to come unto him, is a better Common-prayer-book than that which is taken out of the Papistical mass-book, being the scraps and fragments of the devices of some popes, some friars, and I wot not what. Third. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, and an AFFECTIONATE pouring out of the soul to God. O! the heat, strength, life, vigour, and affection, that is in right prayer!
“As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” (Psa 42:1). “I have longed after thy precepts” (Psa 119:40). “I have longed for thy salvation” (ver 174). “My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psa 84:2). “My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto thy judgments at all times” (Psa 119:20). Mark ye here, “My soul longeth,” it longeth, it longeth, &c. O what affection is here discovered in prayer! The like you have in Daniel. “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God” (Dan 9:19).
Every syllable carrieth a mighty vehemency in it. This is called the fervent, or the working prayer, by James. And so again, “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:44). Or had his affections more and more drawn out after God for his helping hand. O! How wide are there the most of men with their prayers from this prayer, that is, PRAYER in God’s account! Alas! The greatest part of men make no conscience at all of the duty; and as for them that do, it is to be feared that many of them are very great strangers to a sincere, sensible, and affectionate pouring out their hearts or souls to God; but even content themselves with a little lip-labour and bodily exercise, mumbling over a few imaginary prayers. When the affections are indeed engaged in prayer, then, then the whole man is engaged, and that in such sort, that the soul will spend itself to nothing, as it were, rather than it will go without that good desired, even communion and solace with Christ. And hence it is that the saints have spent their strengths, and lost their lives, rather than go without the blessing (Psa 69:3; 38:9,10; Gen 32:24,26).
All this is too, too evident by the ignorance, profaneness, and spirit of envy, that reign in the hearts of those men that are so hot for the forms, and not the power of praying. Scarce one of forty among them know what it is to be born again, to have communion with the Father through the Son; to feel the power of grace sanctifying their hearts: but for all their prayers, they still live cursed, drunken, whorish, and abominable lives, full of malice, envy, deceit, persecuting of the dear children of God. O what a dreadful after-clap is coming upon them! which all their hypocritical assembling themselves together, with all their prayers, shall never be able to help them against, or shelter them from.
Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul. There is in prayer an unbosoming of a man’s self, an opening of the heart to God, an affectionate pouring out of the soul in requests, sighs, and groans. “All my desire is before thee,” saith David, “and my groaning is not hid from thee” (Psa 38:9). And again, “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me” (Psa 42:2,4). Mark, “I pour out my soul.”
It is an expression signifying, that in prayer there goeth the very life and whole strength to God. As in another place, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, – pour out your heart before him” (Psa 62:8). This is the prayer to which the promise is made, for the delivering of a poor creature out of captivity and thralldom. “If from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut 4:29).
Again, It is a pouring out of the heart or soul TO GOD. This showeth also the excellency of the spirit of prayer. It is the great God to which it retires. “When shall I come and appear before God?” And it argueth, that the soul that thus prayeth indeed, sees an emptiness in all things under heaven; that in God alone there is rest and satisfaction for the soul. “Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God” So saith David, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be put to confusion. Deliver me in thy righteousness, and cause me to escape; incline thine ear to me, and save me. Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: – for thou art my rock and my fortress; deliver me, O my God, – out of the hand of the unrighteous and cruel man. For thou art my hope, O Lord God, thou art my trust from my youth” (Psa 71:1-5).
Many in a wording way speak of God; but right prayer makes God his hope, stay, and all. Right prayer sees nothing substantial, and worth the looking after, but God. And that, as I said before, it doth in a sincere, sensible, and affectionate way. Again, It is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God,
This through Christ must needs be added, or else it is to be questioned, whether it be prayer, though in appearance it be never so eminent or eloquent. Christ is the way through whom the soul hath admittance to God, and without whom it is impossible that so much as one desire should come into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (John 14:6). “If ye shall ask anything in my name”; “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13,14). This was Daniel’s way in praying for the people of God; he did it in the name of Christ. “Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake” (Dan 9:17). And so David, “For thy name’s sake,” that is, for thy Christ’s sake, “pardon mine iniquity, for it is great” (Psa 25:11).
But now, it is not every one that maketh mention of Christ’s name in prayer, that doth indeed, and in truth, effectually pray to God in the name of Christ, or through him. This coming to God through Christ is the hardest part that is found in prayer. A man may more easily be sensible of his works, ay, and sincerely too desire mercy, and yet not be able to come to God by Christ. That man that comes to God by Christ, he must first have the knowledge of him; “for he that cometh to God, must believe that he is” (Heb 11:6). And so he that comes to God through Christ, must be enabled to know Christ. Lord, saith Moses, “show me now thy way, that I may know thee” (Exo 33:13).
This Christ, none but the Father can reveal (Matt 11:27). And to come through Christ, is for the soul to be enabled of God to shroud itself under the shadow of the Lord Jesus, as a man shroudeth himself under a thing for safeguard (Matt 16:16).7 Hence it is that David so often terms Christ his shield, buckler, tower, fortress, rock of defence, &c., (Psa 18:2; 27:1; 28:1). Not only because by him he overcame his enemies, but because through him he found favour with God the Father. And so he saith to Abraham, “Fear not, I am thy shield,” &c., (Gen 15:1).
The man then that comes to God through Christ, must have faith, by which he puts on Christ, and in him appears before God. Now he that hath faith is born of God, born again, and so becomes one of the sons of God; by virtue of which he is joined to Christ, and made a member of him (John 3:5,7; 1:12). And therefore, secondly he, as a member of Christ, comes to God; I say, as a member of him, so that God looks on that man as a part of Christ, part of his body, flesh, and bones, united to him by election, conversion, illumination, the Spirit being conveyed into the heart of that poor man by God (Eph 5:30).
–So that now he comes to God in Christ’s merits, in his blood, righteousness, victory, intercession, and so stands before him, being “accepted in his Beloved” (Eph 1:6). And because this poor creature is thus a member of the Lord Jesus, and under this consideration hath admittance to come to God; therefore, by virtue of this union also, is the Holy Spirit conveyed into him, whereby he is able to pour out himself, to wit, Jesus Christ has opened the way to God the Father, by the sacrifice He made for us upon the cross. The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back. Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, only let them plead the atoning blood of Jesus, and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willing and ready to hear. The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport to our prayers. In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence. God has engaged to hear him. Reader, think of this; is not this encouragement?—J. C. Ryle—
-and his soul, before God, with his audience. And this leads me to the next, or fourth particular.
Fourth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate, pouring out of the heart or soul to God.
Through Christ, by the strength or ASSISTANCE OF THE SPIRIT.
For these things do so depend one upon another, that it is impossible that it should be prayer, without there be a joint concurrence of them; for though it be never so famous, yet without these things, it is only such prayer as is rejected of God. For without a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart to God, it is but lip-labour; and if it be not through Christ, it falleth far short of ever sounding well in the ears of God. So also, if it be not in the strength and assistance of the Spirit, it is but like the sons of Aaron, offering with strange fire (Lev 10:1,2). But I shall speak more to this under the second head; and therefore in the meantime, that which is not petitioned through the teaching and assistance of the Spirit, it is not possible that it should be “according to the will of God (Rom 8:26,27).
Fifth. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart, or soul, to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Spirit,
FOR SUCH THINGS AS GOD HATH PROMISED,
(Matt 6:6-8). Prayer it is, when it is within the compass of God’s Word; and it is blasphemy, or at best vain babbling, when the petition is beside the book. David therefore still in his prayer kept his eye on the Word of God. “My soul,” saith he, “cleaveth to the dust; quicken me according to thy word.” And again, “My soul melteth for heaviness, strengthen thou me according unto thy word” (Psa 119:25-28; see also 41, 42, 58, 65, 74, 81, 82, 107, 147, 154, 169, 170). And, “remember thy word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope” (ver 49).
And indeed the Holy Ghost doth not immediately quicken and stir up the heart of the Christian without, but by, with, and through the Word, by bringing that to the heart, and by opening of that, whereby the man is provoked to go to the Lord, and to tell him how it is with him, and also to argue, and supplicate, according to the Word; thus it was with Daniel, that mighty prophet of the Lord. He understanding by books that the captivity of the children of Israel was hard at an end; then, according unto that word, he maketh his prayer to God. “I Daniel,” saith he, “understood by books,” viz., the writings of Jeremiah, “the number of the years whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, – that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. And I set my face to the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan 9:2,3).
So that I say, as the Spirit is the helper and the governor of the soul, when it prayeth according to the will of God; so it guideth by and according to, the Word of God and his promise. Hence it is that our Lord Jesus Christ himself did make a stop, although his life lay at stake for it. I could now pray to my Father, and he should give me more than twelve legions of angels; but how then must the scripture be fulfilled that thus it must be? (Matt 26:53,54). As who should say, Were there but a word for it in the scripture, I should soon be out of the hands of mine enemies, I should be helped by angels; but the scripture will not warrant this kind of praying, for that saith otherwise. It is a praying then according to the Word and promise. The Spirit by the Word must direct, as well in the manner, as in the matter of prayer. “I will pray with the Spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also” (I Cor 14:15). But there is no understanding without the Word. For if they reject the word of the Lord, “what wisdom is in them?” (Jer 8:9).
Sixth. FOR THE GOOD OF THE CHURCH.
This clause reacheth in whatsoever tendeth either to the honour of God, Christ’s advancement, or his people’s benefit. For God, and Christ, and his people are so linked together that if the good of the one be prayed or, to wit, the church, the glory of God, and advancement of Christ, must needs be included.
For as Christ is in the Father, so the saints are in Christ; and he that toucheth the saints, toucheth the apple of God’s eye; and therefore pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and you pray for all that is required of you. For Jerusalem will never be in perfect peace until she be in heaven; and there is nothing that Christ doth more desire than to have her there. That also is the place that God through Christ hath given to her. He then that prayeth for the peace and good of Zion, or the church, doth ask that in prayer which Christ hath purchased with his blood; and also that which the Father hath given to him as the price thereof. Now he that prayeth for this, must pray for abundance of grace for the church, for help against all its temptations; that God would let nothing be too hard for it; and that all things might work together for its good, that God would keep them blameless and harmless, the sons of God, to his glory, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. And this is the substance of Christ’s own prayer in John 17.
And all Paul’s prayers did run that way, as one of his prayers doth eminently show. “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge, and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere, and without offence, till the day of Christ. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:9 11). But a short prayer, you see, and yet full of good desires for the church, from the beginning to the end; that it may stand and go on, and that in the most excellent frame of spirit, even without blame, sincere, and without offence, until the day of Christ, let its temptations or persecutions be what they will (Eph 1:16-21; 3:14-19; Col 1:9-13).
Seventh. And because, as I said, prayer doth SUBMIT TO THE WILL OF GOD,
and say, Thy will be done, as Christ hath taught us- (Matt 6:10); therefore the people of the Lord in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers, and all that they have, at the foot of their God, to be disposed of by him as he in his heavenly wisdom seeth best. Yet not doubting but God will answer the desire of his people that way that shall be most for their advantage and his glory. When the saints therefore do pray with submission to the will of God, it doth not argue that they are to doubt or question God’s love and kindness to them.
But because they at all times are not so wise, but that sometimes Satan may get that advantage of them, as to tempt them to pray for that which, if they had it, would neither prove to God’s glory nor his people’s good. “Yet this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us; and if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him,” that is, we asking in the Spirit of grace and supplication (I John 5:14,15). For, as I said before, that petition that is not put up in and through the Spirit, it is not to be answered, because it is beside the will of God. For the Spirit only knoweth that, and so consequently knoweth how to pray according to that will of God. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man but the Spirit of God” (I Cor 2:11).
In our consideration of these biblical doctrines, our method has been to follow the order and the plan of salvation, so we come now, by a logical sequence, to the great doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Now I cannot begin to talk about this doctrine without pausing for a moment to express again my sense of wonder and amazement at the plan of salvation. I believe that people who are not interested in the plan of salvation as such, are robbing themselves of a great deal. When you try to stand back and look at it as a whole, you must at once be impressed by its glory, its greatness, its perfection in every part; each doctrine leads to the next until there it is, the complete whole.
It is a very good thing in the Christian life to stand back periodically and look at this great plan. That is why I think it is important to observe Christmas Day and Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and to preach on those days. They are convenient occasions for reminding ourselves of the whole plan of salvation. Look at it as a whole, look at the separate parts; but always remember that the parts must be kept in their relationship to the whole.
So it is very important that we should be studying the Bible in this particular way. I would always recommend that you read the Bible chapter by chapter, that you go steadily through it—that is also good. But in addition I do suggest that it is of vital importance to take out the great doctrines that are taught there, and look at them according to the plan or the scheme of salvation. The Church has done this from the very beginning, and it is a tragedy that it is done so infrequently at this present time because if you are content only with reading through the Scriptures, there is a danger of missing the wood for the trees. As you read through, you become so immersed in the details, getting the right translation, and so on, that you tend to forget the big, outstanding doctrines. So the reason for taking a series like this is to remind ourselves thatt
the purpose of the Bible is to tell us God’s plan for the salvation of this world.
Another thing which I must emphasize is this: I know nothing which is such a wonderful proof of the unique, divine inspiration of the Scriptures as the study of Christian doctrine because we see then that this book is one, that it has one message though it was written at different times by different men in different circumstances. There is great unity in the message, one theme running from the beginning to the end. From the moment mankind fell, God began to put the plan of salvation into operation, and we can follow the steps and the stages right through the Bible. And so as we come to consider the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, we are reminded that here again is a doctrine that appears both in the Old and the New Testaments. We find a reference to the Holy Spirit in the second verse of the Bible, and the teaching goes right the way through. This amazing unity, I repeat, is proof of the unique, divine inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures.
So, then, we find that in this great plan the Holy Spirit is the applier of salvation.
It is His work to bring to us, and to make actual in us, in an experiential manner, that great salvation which we have been considering together and which the Son of God came into the world in order to work out. In the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is the executive, the executor. I shall have to come back to this again when we deal particularly and specifically with His work, but that is His great function in the plan.
Now it is a remarkable and an astonishing thing that this doctrine of the Holy Spirit, His person and His work, has been so frequently neglected in the Church—yet that is an actual fact of history. It is quite clear that the first Christians believed the doctrine, they almost took it for granted. Then you come to the early centuries of the Christian era and you find very little reference, comparatively speaking, to this doctrine. That is not surprising, in fact it was more or less inevitable, because the Church was constantly engaged, in those first centuries, in defending the doctrine concerning the Son. The Son of God had become incarnate: He had been here in this world. Jesus was preached, Jesus as the Christ, and, of course, the enemy was constantly attacking the person of Christ. This was the linchpin in the whole of the gospel and if it could be discredited, the whole scheme would collapse. So the attack was upon the person of the Son and the Church had to give herself in defence of that doctrine in order to establish it.
Tragically, the result was that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was comparatively neglected, until the time of the Protestant Reformation. Now it is our custom to say that the Protestant Reformation is primarily the epoch in the history of the Church in which the great doctrine of justification by faith only was rediscovered in the Bible, and that is perfectly true. But let us never forget that it is equally true that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit was also rediscovered in a most amazing manner, and the great Dr B. B. Warfield is surely right when he says that John Calvin was the great theologian of the Holy Spirit. With the whole Roman system the Holy Spirit was ignored; the priesthood, the priests, the Church, Mary and the saints were put into the position of the Holy Spirit.
So the Protestant Reformation rediscovered this mighty doctrine; and let us, in Britain, take partial credit for that. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit was, beyond any question whatsoever, worked out most thoroughly of all by a Puritan divine who lived in this country in the seventeenth century. There is still no greater work on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit than the two volumes by the mighty Dr John Owen, who preached in London and who was also at one time, during the period of Cromwell, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Oxford. And not only John Owen. Thomas Goodwin and other Puritans also worked out the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It has never been done so thoroughly since, and certainly had never been done before.
Now generally speaking, the position today is that the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is either neglected or it tends to be emphasised and exaggerated in a false manner. And I have no doubt at all that the second is partly the cause of the first. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is neglected because people are so afraid of the spurious, the false and the exaggerated that they avoid it altogether. No doubt this is why many people also neglect the doctrine of prophecy, the last things and the second coming. ‘The moment you start on that,’ they say, ‘you get into these extravagances and these disputes.’ So they leave the whole thing alone and the doctrine is entirely neglected.
So it is with the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.
In view of all this, therefore, it is obviously essential that we should consider this great doctrine very carefully. If we had no other reason for doing so, this is more than enough—that
it is a part of the great doctrine of the blessed Holy Trinity.
Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit?
If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him. I am very ready to agree with those who say that the low spiritual life of the Church, today or at any time, is largely due to the fact that so many fail to realize the truth concerning the person and the work of the Holy Spirit.
One other thing under this heading. I wonder whether you have ever noticed, those of you who are interested in hymns and in hymnology, that in most hymnbooks no section is so weak as the section devoted to the Holy Spirit? Here the hymns are generally weak, sentimental and subjective. For that reason, I have always found myself in great difficulties on Whit Sunday. We are lacking in great doctrinal hymns concerning the Holy Spirit and His work. Indeed, there are those who would say (and I am prepared to agree with them) that in many hymnbooks a vast majority of the hymns under the section of the Holy Spirit—these hymns that beseech Him to come into the Church and to come upon us, and to do this and that—are thoroughly unscriptural. That is another way of showing you again that this great doctrine has been neglected, that people have fought shy of it, and there is confusion concerning it.
The best way to approach the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is to start by noticing the names or the descriptive titles that are given to this blessed person.
First of all, there are the many names that relate Him to the Father;
let me enumerate some of them: the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2); the Spirit of the Lord (Luke 4:18); the Spirit of our God(1 Cor. 6:11). Then another is, the Spirit of the Lord God, which is in Isaiah 61:1. Our Lord speaks, in Matthew 10:20, of the Spirit of your Father, while Paul refers to the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor. 3:3). My Spirit, says God, in Genesis 6:3, and the psalmist asks, ‘Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?’(Ps. 139:7). He is referred to as his Spirit—God’s Spirit—in Numbers 11:29; and Paul, in Romans 8:11, uses the phrase the Spirit of him [God the Father] that raised up Jesus from the dead. All these are descriptive titles referring to the Holy Spirit in terms of His relationship to the Father.
In the second group are the titles that relate the Holy Spirit to the Son.
First, ‘If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his’ (Rom. 8:9), which is a most important phrase. The word ‘Spirit’ here refers to the Holy Spirit. In Philippians 1:19, Paul speaks about the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and in Galatians 4:6 he says, ‘God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son’. Finally He is referred to as the Spirit of the Lord (Acts 5:9).
Finally, the third group comprises the direct or personal titles, and first and foremost here, of course, is the name Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.
Some people are confused by these two terms but they mean exactly the same thing. The English language is a hybrid which has borrowed from other languages, and ‘Ghost’ is an old Anglo-Saxon word while ‘Spirit’ is derived from the Latin spiritus.
A second title in this group is the Spirit of holiness. Romans 1:4 reads, ‘Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.’ A further title is the Holy One: ‘But ye have an unction from the Holy One’(1 John 2:20). In Hebrews 9:14 He is referred to as the eternal Spirit and Paul says in Romans 8:2, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.’ In John 14:17 He is called the Spirit of truth, and in chapters 14, 15 and 16 of John’s Gospel, He is referred to as the Comforter.
Those, then, are the main names, or descriptive titles, that are applied to Him. But have you ever thought of asking why He is called the Holy Spirit? Now if you put that question to people, I think you will find that they will answer, ‘He is described like that because He is holy.’ But that cannot be the true explanation because the purpose of a name is to differentiate someone from others, but God the Father is holy and God the Son is equally holy.
Why, then, is He called holy?
Surely, the explanation is that it is His special work to produce holiness and order in all that He does in the application of Christ’s work of salvation. His objective is to produce holiness and He does that in nature and creation, as well as in human beings. But His ultimate work is to make us a holy people, holy as the children of God. It is also probable that He is described as the Holy Spirit in order to differentiate Him from the other spirits—the evil spirits. That is why we are told to test the spirits and to prove them, and to know whether they are of God or not (1 John 4:1).
Then the next great question is the personality or the person of the Spirit.
Now this is vital because it is essential that I should put it like this. The person of the Holy Spirit is not only forgotten by those whom we describe as liberals or modernists in their theology (that is always true of them), but we ourselves are often guilty of precisely the same thing. I have heard most orthodox people referring to the Holy Spirit and His work as ‘it’ and ‘its’ influence and so on, as if the Holy Spirit were nothing but an influence or a power. And hymns, too, frequently make the same mistake. There is a confusion about the Holy Spirit and I am sure there is a sense in which many of us find it a little more difficult to conceive of the third person in the blessed Holy Trinity than to conceive of the Father or the Son. Now why is that? Why is there this tendency to think of Him as a force, or an influence, or an emanation?
There are a number of answers to that question. They are not good reasons, but we must consider them. The first is that His work seems to be impersonal, because it is a kind of mystical and secret work. He produced graces and fruits; He gives us gifts and He gives us various powers. And because of that, we tend to think of Him as if He were some influence. I am sure that this is a great part of the explanation.
But, furthermore, the very name and title tends to produce this idea. What does Spirit mean? It means breath or wind or power—it is the same word—and because of that, I think, we tend, almost inevitably and very naturally, unless we safeguard ourselves, to think of Him as just an influence rather than a person.
Then a third reason is that the very symbols that are used in speaking of Him and in describing Him tend to encourage us in that direction. He descended upon our Lord, as John baptised Him in the Jordan, in the semblance of a dove (Matt. 3:16). And again, the symbols that are used to describe Him and His work are oil and water and fire. In particular, there is the phrase in the prophecy of Joel, which was quoted by Peter in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, about the Spirit being poured out (Acts 2:17). That makes us think of liquid, something like water, something that can be handled—certainly not a person. So unless we are very careful and remember that we are dealing with the symbols only, the symbolic language of the Scripture tends to make us think of Him impersonally.
Another reason why it is that we are frequently in difficulties about the personality of the Holy Spirit is that very often, in the preliminary salutations to the various New Testament epistles, reference is made to the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned. Our Lord in the great high priestly prayer says, ‘And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3)—He makes no specific reference to the Holy Spirit. And then John says the same thing in his first epistle: ‘And truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ’(1 John 1:3). He does not mention the Spirit specifically at that point.
Then also, the word Spirit in the Greek language is a neuter word, and, therefore, we tend to think of Him and of His work in this impersonal, neutral sense. And for that reason, the King James Version, I am sorry to say, undoubtedly fell into the trap at this point. In Romans 8:16 we have that great statement which reads, ‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the children of God.’ You notice the word ‘itself’, not ‘Himself’. Again in the same chapter we read, ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us’(Rom. 8:26). At this point the Revised Version is altogether superior since in both instances it gives the correct translation: ‘Himself’, even though in the Greek the pronoun, as well as the noun, is in the neuter.
And thus we have, it seems to me, these main reasons why people have found it difficult to realise that the Holy Spirit is a person. People have argued—many theologians would argue—that the Scripture itself says the ‘Spirit of Christ’. The Holy Spirit, they say, is not a distinct person; He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Son, or of the Father, and thus they deny His personality.
How, then, do we answer all this? What is the scriptural reply to these reasons that are often adduced? Well, first of all, the personal pronoun is used of Him. Take John 16:7–8 and 13–15 where the masculine pronoun ‘He’ is used twelve times with reference to the Holy Spirit. Now that is a very striking thing. Jesus says, ‘Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth’ (v. 13)—and so on. And this, of course, is of particular importance when we remember that the noun itself is a neuter noun, so the pronoun attached to it should be in the neuter. Now this is not always the case but it is in the vast majority of instances. It is most interesting and it shows how important it is to realise that the inspiration of Scripture goes down even to words like pronouns! So that is the first argument, and those who do not believe in the person of the Spirit will have to explain why almost the whole Scripture uses the masculine pronoun.
The second reply to those who query the personality of the Spirit is that the Holy Spirit is identified with the Father and the Son in such a way as to indicate personality.
There are two great arguments here; the first is the baptismal formula: ‘baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost’(Matt. 28:19). Here He is associated with the Father and the Son in a way that of necessity points to His personality. And notice, incidentally, that this baptismal formula does not say, ‘baptizing them in the names’ but ‘in the name’. It uses the unity of the three Persons—the Three in One—one name, one God, but still Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And so if you do not believe in the person and personality of the Holy Spirit, and think that He is just a power or a breath, you would have to say, ‘Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the breath’ or of ‘the power’. And at once it becomes impossible. The second argument is based on the apostolic benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost …’—obviously the Holy Spirit is a person in line with the person of the Father and of the Son.
The third reply is that in a most interesting way we can prove the personality of the Spirit by showing that He is identified with us, with Christians, in a way that indicates that He is a person. In Acts 15:28 we read, ‘For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things.’This was a decision arrived at by members of the early Church, and as they were persons, so He must be a person. You cannot say, ‘It seemed good to a power and to us,’ because the power would be working in us. But here is someone outside us—‘It seemed good to him and to us’.
The fourth reply is that personal qualities are ascribed to Him in the Scriptures. He is said, for example, to have knowledge. Paul argues, ‘For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God’ (1 Cor. 2:11).
But—and this is very important—He has a will also, a sovereign will.
Read carefully 1 Corinthians 12 where Paul is writing about spiritual gifts, and the diversity of the gifts. This is what we are told: ‘But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will’(v. 11). Now that is a very important statement in the light of all the interest in spiritual healing. People say, ‘Why have we not got this gift in the Church, and why has every Christian not got it?’ To which the simple answer is that this is not a gift that anybody should claim. It is the Spirit who gives and who dispenses these gifts, according to His own will. He is a sovereign Lord, and he decides to whom and when and where and how and how much to give His particular gifts.
Then the next point is that He clearly has a mind.
In Romans 8:27 we read, ‘And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit’—this is in connection with prayer. He is also one who loves, because we read that ‘the fruit of the Spirit is love’(Gal. 5:22); and it is His function to shed abroad the love of God in our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
And, likewise, we know He is capable of grief, because in Ephesians 4:30, we are warned not to ‘grieve’ the Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and especially this aspect of the doctrine which emphasizes His personality, is of supreme importance. The ultimate doctrine about the Spirit, from the practical, experiential standpoint, is that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so that whatever I do, wherever I go, the Holy Spirit is in me. I know nothing which so promotes sanctification and holiness as the realization of that. If only we realized, always, in anything we do with our bodies, the Holy Spirit is involved! Remember, also, that Paul teaches that in the context of a warning against fornication. He writes, ‘Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you …?’ (1 Cor. 6:19). That is why fornication should be unthinkable in a Christian. God is in us, in the Holy Spirit: not an influence, not a power, but a person whom we can grieve.
So we are going through all these details not out of an academic interest, nor because I may happen to have a theological type of mind. No, I am concerned about these things, as I am a man trying myself to live the Christian life, and as I am called of God to be a pastor of souls, and feel the responsibility for the souls and the conduct and behavior of others. God forbid that anybody should regard this matter as remote and theoretical. It is vital, practical doctrine. Wherever you are, wherever you go, if you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is in you and if you really want to enjoy the blessings of salvation, you do so by knowing that your body is His temple.